BRANDON – The Select Board voted Monday to adopt a plan for renewable energy development.
Board Chairman Seth Hopkins said in an interview Tuesday the vote was unanimous, and there wasn’t much discussion, given the amount of past conversations about it. The new “enhanced energy plan” will be incorporated into Brandon’s Town Plan once it’s approved by the Rutland Regional Planning Commission.
Barbara Noyes Pulling, a planner with the regional planning commission who has assisted several towns with these plans, said Tuesday she expects Brandon’s plan will be discussed at her organization’s Nov. 19 meeting.
Having an enhanced energy plan is optional for towns, but for them to carry any weight with the Public Utility Commission they need to comply with state statutes. The PUC relies on the state’s regional planning commissions to review the plans and make sure they comply with state law.
“Our main goal was to gain substantial deference if a project comes in where the town is opposed to the siting,” said Hopkins.
The PUC has permitting authority over all energy generation projects in Vermont. Its authority overrides local zoning laws. A few years ago, after hearing complaints from municipalities over this, the Legislature passed a law allowing local governments to gain “substantial deference” before the PUC on proposed energy projects. Towns were already considered “intervenors” in these matters, but having substantial deference requires the PUC to give more weight to town concerns. To gain this status, the town in question must have adopted an enhanced energy plan that meets the state’s criteria.
Hopkins said the town has been fairly supportive of the various solar projects proposed within its borders, all except one, the Babcock project, proposed by Conti Solar, which pulled its application to the PUC in 2018 after its site designs became unworkable given the location of a water line running under the property.
Michael Shank, chairman of the Brandon Planning Commission, said Tuesday he expects the regional planning commission will sign off on the document. The plan was drafted by the town commission’s Energy Committee.
“We took great care, as an energy committee, to do our due diligence here. And the RRPC has been very supportive throughout the entire process,” Shank said.
He said Brandon is already well on its way towards meeting the renewable energy goals set by the state by 2050 and feels the town should work to exceed them, saying more renewable energy will cut down on pollution, help the economy, and make the town more energy-independent.
The plan addresses more than solar development. It also looks at transportation, home and business energy efficiency, and other items.
“Electric cars and charging stations are scaling up and becoming more affordable due to state rebates and an increasing stock of affordable used EVs,” said Shank in an email. “But we need more mass transit options that are convenient and frequent, and we need biking infrastructure that’s safe and accessible. That all makes for a healthier and more enjoyable downtown. Additionally, with less sprawl, there’s more money spent downtown.”